People, lots of people, that’s what you get with the latest Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy. You get exactly what it says on the bill board: 82 Portraits and 1 still-life. All the same structure, all painted over three days, all subjects sat on the same chair in the same studio and not one of them paid for the privilege of being painted, so Mr Hockney was not under any obligation to flatter his sitters.
All 83 canvases are hung in the order that they were painted. We start off with a man slumped forward with his head in his hands. Only afterwards did David Hockney realise that it echoed a Van Gogh picture entitled ‘Old Man in Sorrow’ which matched the way he felt at the time. One of his close associates had died, an event that saw him quit Bridlington where he had been based for seven years and retreat back to Los Angeles. Here he struggled to get his painting mojo back but with this portrait something clicked. The title of the Van Gogh painting has a second part ‘…..on the threshold of redemption’ and so it was to be for Hockney too. Later we see our bereft friend sitting up and looking quite perky.
What would you wear if you were invited to sit for a David Hockney portrait. A splash of colour seems to have been the answer that most came up with. A bright orange jumper here, a pair of pink trousers there. Rita Pynoos opted for such a cascade of red silk that it had to be painted all in go, because the slightest movement would have changed the look of the whole image. The pictures are all hung suitably in portrait style, except one which is in landscape. I always like images of siblings and here are the Barringer brother, canvas on its side to accommodate them both.
Once David Hockney had found his inspiration in people, he set out to paint his friends in what he considers to be one work. J-P Goncalves de Lima, he’s the man with his head in his hands, booked people in. One day at the last minute the scheduled person couldn’t make it. David Hockney was all psyched up to paint and so he grabbed a blue table and arranged some fruit on it. Hence the title of the show.
Over the years I have seen many exhibitions in the Sackler galleries of the Royal Academy, this is the one that it was made for. Early on in the project David Hockney and Edith Devaney, curator at the Academy, settled on an exhibition of the work with this space in mind. Four years ago people queued around the block to see Hockney’s landscapes in the bigger galleries downstairs and this one deserves to have queues just as long.
2 July – 2 October 2016
Royal Academy of Arts
Open: 10am-6pm daily (Friday until 10pm)
Admission: £11.50 concessions available, children under 16 free